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17. American Science Fiction Film: An Overview

Vivian Sobchack

Subject Literature
Media Studies » Film Studies

Place Northern America » United States of America

Key-Topics science fiction

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405112185.2005.00019.x


As a film genre, science fiction dramatizes the social consequences of imaginary science and technology in speculative visions of possible futures, alternate pasts, and parallel presents. The genre's breadth of thematic material and settings includes the exploration and colonization of outer and inner space, apocalyptic world cataclysms and their aftermath, invasion of the Earth by superior extraterrestrials or destructive and monstrous creatures, time travel as well as space travel, human and alien cultures meeting in novel circumstances, and the extension and transformation of human beings through technological and biological manipulation and accident. Visual by nature, SF film is less contemplative and analytic and more spectacular and kinetic than its literary counterparts. Thus, its emphasis is on dramatic action, a markedly wondrous mise-en-scène that defamiliarizes this world as it envisions others, and a foregrounded use of “special effects.” SF did not emerge as a distinctive American film genre until the 1950s. This decade saw the production of a large number of narrative features that, through imaginative displacement in space and time, speculatively mapped the future (or lack of it) of a postwar world transformed forever by major technological innovation and new forms of energy and communication. However, although historically unique, the SF film's first “Golden Age” ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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